Matthew Runyon is a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign and is a part of the National Corn Growers Association's (NCGA) Research Ambassador Program. After seeing how drought affected his family’s farm, Matthew sought to find sustainable ways to improve yield during dry times.
Matthew focused his research on aquaporins, which are proteins that help facilitate water movement, as well as other small molecules like CO2, between plant cells. By characterizing mutants with altered aquaporin expression profiles, Matthew hopes to change water-use efficiency (WUE) and photosynthetic parameters.
“In principle, overexpressing CO2-permeable aquaporins should increase the rate of carbon uptake,” shares Matthew. “This will reduce the amount of time the stomata need to be open to allow CO2-rich air to enter the leaf, consequentially reducing the amount of water transpired.”
Matthew’s research is divided into two pieces. First, he is studying the natural expression profiles of proteins in diverse corn lines and identifying patterns among different heterotic groups. Secondly, he is working to target the key pathways components of stomata in response to varying CO2 levels. He has found non-functional mutant plants take nearly 40% longer to respond to environmental conditions with a significant decrease in WUE. These findings will guide his next step in creating a hyperresponsive mutant with increased WUE.
Through the NCGA Research Ambassador program, Matthew was able to advance his science communications skills. Being given the opportunity to meet growers from diverse backgrounds, Matthew had to learn how to accurately communicate his research in an easy-to-understand manner.
Matthew kept his studies to the University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign, where he earned his bachelor’s degree and is currently pursuing his PhD. He also had the opportunity to intern at the Corteva Agriscience Princeton, Ill. Research Station and AgReliant Genetics Champaign, Ill. Research Station. During his graduate career, Matthew has held both the university’s Department of Crop Sciences Dow Agrosciences Fellowship and Illinois Corn Marketing Growers Fellowship. One of his favorite things to do is training undergraduate and high school students who are working with the lab, encouraging them to consider a future career in agricultural research for themselves.
The NCGA Research Ambassador program was developed by the Sustainable Ag Research Action Team and supported by Valent. The program is designed to create a network of young leaders passionate about the agriculture industry. Participants are given the opportunity to interact with corn growers, participate in Capitol Hill visits, attend NCGA meetings and connect their lab to the farm.